Between a lost identity and the belonging to a foreign culture
As part of the Days of Exile, the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (MKG) showed from 16 November 2018 until 13 January 2019 works by Syrian Artist Khaled Barakeh.
In his work, the artist deals with long-term conflicts and their possible pacification, the experience of torture, flight and exile and how refugees cope with their war experiences, biographical breaks and with a new beginning. His approximately 20 works, some of which were created especially for the exhibition, address the phenomenon of transition. In doing so, he not only uses the medium of photography, but also works with numerous other forms of artistic expression.
The exhibition title The Blue Hour takes up a term familiar in many cultures and especially among photographers, which describes the phase of dusk before sunrise in the morning and after sunset in the evening. Barakeh transmits the picture to the situation of migrants, who find their way in a new society and at the same time have to cope with flight experiences and loss of home. The conflict between the lost identity, the unsecured status and the search for a new perspective and belonging to the foreign culture are marked by grief, insecurity and hope. There are sculptures, collages and media installations to be seen.
Barakeh’s Untitled Images (2014) show the brutal reality of the Syrian war. Mourning people carry their dying or killed relatives in their arms. The images testify to the cruelty of the war and at the same time to the violence that emanates from the act of showing through the media. Barakeh has cut out the silhouette of the body, leaving only a blank white space. It is his attempt to protect the deads from public display and to highlight their presence by extinguishing the bodies.
In his works Supple Cartographies and The Shake Barakeh deals with the problem of long-term conflicts and the difficulty of approximation of the various parties. Supple Cartographies (2018) cites the Japanese kintsugi technique, in which broken ceramic is supplemented with gold inserts. Barakeh transfers this artistic technique to the world map and connects the borders and breaklines between the warring states of the world with golden inserts.
For a long time Barakeh has been working on the sculpture Hands Across the Divide (2012) by the Northern Irish artist Maurice Harron. In this sculpture, which is located in the Northern Irish city of Derry, a Protestant and a Catholic are reaching out their hand, unable to join, however. With the work The Shake – Materializing Distance (2013-2018) Barakeh models the missing piece for a handshake. In The Shake – Did I Miss You Again (2018), replicas of Maurice Harron’s characters rotate against each other to the ticking of clocks that are set to different time zones, and so miss the handout.
A central theme of Barakeh’s work is the loss of identity. In his work The Master Plan (2018), he creates a city model of Damascus using the traditional technique of wood inlay art. With this work Barakeh criticized the modernist urban redevelopment in Damascus under the rule of the actual regime. Many traditional workshops – and thus also a part of the Syrian culture – were irretrievably destroyed for the construction of city highways and large squares. A special concern of Barakeh is the combination of Syrian and German themes and craft techniques. In the style of highly developed Islamic typeface Barakeh made in his work The Aperture (2018) a copy of the German Constitution (Grundgesetz) in calligraphy. In translating the text into Arabic script, the artist adopts liberal democratic values and also recalls that these values were also a central demand in the so-called Arab Spring.
Some works address the suffering and pain that victims of the conflict in Syria had to experience. In his work Damascus 17/02/2012 19:47:31 (2013), Barakeh abstracts the back injuries suffered by a friend through torture into a seemingly calligraphic sign that acts as a visible mark of violence and pain, and later as a scar inscribed in the body for life. In his work Regarding the Pain of Others (2013), he transforms a bier (funerary stretcher) that he brought out of Syria into a fallen throne, symbolizing the moral decline of the Syrian regime.
Born in 1976 in a suburb of Damascus, Syria, Khaled Barakeh graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts, Damascus University in 2005, completed his MFA at Funen Art Academy in Odense, Denmark in 2010 and finished his Meisterschüler at the Städelschule Art Academy in Frankfurt a.M., Germany in 2013.
Translation into English: Danii Kessjan